By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 25, 2005
BAGHDAD, Dec. 24 -- Insurgents and common criminals have kidnapped about 425 foreigners in Iraq since U.S.-led forces entered the country in 2003, a Western official in Baghdad said Saturday.
The official, who spoke to reporters on condition he not be identified further, was addressing an upsurge in the kidnappings of foreigners since October.
Eighteen percent of the foreign victims have been killed, the official said. Of 40 Americans kidnapped, 10 have been killed, officials said.
The number of foreign kidnapping victims given by the official is much higher than the 250 people cited by some media organizations keeping a running tally. The reason for the discrepancy is not clear, although many foreign organizations do not publicize kidnappings for fear of worsening the situation.
On Saturday, the Falcons Brigade, a little-known insurgent movement, released a video of a driver for the Jordanian Embassy who was kidnapped Tuesday in Baghdad. The group threatened to kill the man unless Jordan withdrew its diplomats from the country and freed an Iraqi woman being held in Jordan's capital, Amman, for deadly hotel bombings there in November.
Insurgents have backed away from videotaping beheadings of Western captives, as they did throughout 2004. But on Monday, the Islamic Army of Iraq, a largely Iraqi insurgent group, posted a video on the Internet that it said showed insurgents shooting a kidnapped American contractor, Ronald Allen Schulz, in the back of the head. There has been no confirmation of the identity of the man in the video.
The fate of at least two other Americans kidnapped in Iraq is unknown. One of the Americans, Jeff Ake, a contractor from Indiana, has not been seen since shortly after gunmen took him from his work site at a water treatment plant near Baghdad in April.
Another American, Tom Fox, a longtime resident of Northern Virginia, and three other Western Christian peace activists were seized last month in Baghdad. The four were abducted after an appointment with the Muslim Scholars Association at Um al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, the Western official said. "Kidnapping in Iraq is a form of political theater designed for a particular audience to get a reaction," he said.
Radio appeals from the activists' families are scheduled to start running next week in Iraq, and similar pleas have already appeared in newspapers here.
Police officers receive reports of as many as 30 Iraqis kidnapped each day, the official said. But he added that police estimate that only 5 percent to 10 percent of the Iraqi cases are reported.
"The problem of kidnapping of Iraqis is not something that's gotten proportional attention," the official said. "The breadth and scale is underappreciated."
Crime in Iraq surged with the breakdown of security that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government. Hussein also threw open the doors of the country's prisons in an amnesty before U.S. forces entered.
Iraqis pay an average ransom of $30,000 in each case, the official said, although some Iraqis have reportedly gone bankrupt trying to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The main insurgent bands involved in kidnapping are al Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, he said.
"There is also evidence of selling up," he said, referring to the practice of some criminals who kidnap foreigners and sell them to insurgents. "It's something that people know they can do and have some confidence in getting away with it," he said.
Meanwhile in Mosul, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld served Christmas Eve dinner to dozens of U.S. soldiers, then addressed the troops about the war.
"We will win this war. It's a test of wills, and let there be no doubt that is what it is," Rumsfeld said, according to the Associated Press. Rumsfeld told the troops that "generations before you have persevered and prevailed, and they too were engaged in a test of wills."
Rumsfeld, winding up a five-day trip that began in Pakistan and included stops in Afghanistan and Jordan, said the battle for Iraq was part of a wider battle, which he called "this long war against terrorism -- and it will be a long war."
Repeating a theme he struck throughout his visit, Rumsfeld cautioned against an early exit from Iraq. He said that giving up would mean allowing terrorists to impose "their dark vision on the rest of the world.
Separately Saturday, Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, told reporters in Najaf that he expected all U.S. troops to be out of the country within two years.
"Next year, we shall see the departure of more than 50,000 soldiers, and the remaining 100,000 will depart by the end of 2007," Rubaie said. The statement on the withdrawal of all American troops goes further than any previous public statement by Iraqi or U.S. officials.